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Warning: Most North America cars not E15 “Flex Fuel” compatible

America's switch to sustainable Agra-based Bio distillates remains painfully slow.
America's switch to sustainable Agra-based Bio distillates remains painfully slow.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A Saturday Facebook generated warning Tells us not to use E15 gasoline in our cars.

Nancy King of Eugene asked me to pass the warning on while finding out a bit more about the implications of the warning. After All, information found on Facebook can often be misleading. I thought I’d take a moment to find out why. Research indicates that fewer than 22 million cars on the road in North America today are “Flex Fuel’’compatible. That’s less than 1%

The Automobile Club of America takes the warning a step further by telling us not to burn E15 (ethanol 15%) fuels in any vehicle manufactured prior to 2012. Living in Eugene, Or., the land of the Eco-conscious alternative consumer, we like the idea of alternative, fossil fuel-less Bio-fuels.

Why not not use ethanol fuel blends ?

Warning...Filling your car or motorcycle with E 15 or higher ethanol blend gasoline will void your cars factory warranty; while eventually damaging your engine and exhaust system. Don’t put E15 or higher ethanol blended fuel in your 2014 Honda Fit, Toyota Prius, foreign or domestic built automobile. In-fact, read your vehicle’s manufacturer warranty limitations and specifications as to compatible fuel, motor oil transmission fluid and lubricants..

We could leave the story at that, but…

Unless you drive an automobile manufactured for the South American Brazilian market, your new or used car or motorcycle was most likely not manufactured to burn fuel with a greater than 10% blend of ethanol and gasoline. While 75% of the gasoline sold in North America does contain a small percentage of corn distilled ethanol, alternative fuel distributors specializing in Bio-Diesel and E 85 ( 85% corn distilled alcohol) are springing up across North America.

We have an alternative fuels station in Eugene, Or.. And yes, one day I did put 5 gallons of E 85 in my 1999 Volvo 80 S Turbo; without warning from the attendant. The car wasn't happy, and. it took me no less than 2 days to “mix” the blend out of the tank with premium grade unleaded gasoline. I damaged a primary fuel sensor and the left side catalytic.

Not paying attention at the pump can cost you thousands of dollars in engine, catalytic and exhaust system damage. Your present Honda doesn't have the anti-corrosive, high compression engine and low flash point spark-plug required to burn Ethanol based fuels.

We do like ethanol spiked gasoline for its higher octane rating. Adding as little as 10% to gasoline will increase performance enabling octane by 2 to 3 points. And that’s fine. But taking the mix beyond 10% will ultimately kill your engine.

Researching Honda of Brazil we find that the Accord, City,Civic, CRV, Fit and Fit Twist (Vezel) to be“Flex Fuel” compatible. These cars are manufactured in Brazil specifically for the Brazilian market; the largest in South America. Honda is one of 16 international auto manufactures marketing 100% compatible “ Flex Fuel” vehicles in South America.

The reasoning here is one of legislative compliance and survival on behalf of the manufacturer. In response to the worldwide oil embargo and resulting crisis of 1973, the Brazilian government mandated the use of ethanol blends with gasoline. Decades later the first true “Flex Fuel” compatible vehicle would be introduced to the Brazilian market by Volkswagen do Brasil in 2003.

George Bush attempted the same here with a less than positive response from the petroleum industry.

The Volkswagen 1.6 liter “Total Flex” will run on any % blend of gasoline and sugar cane distilled ethanol. Today over 20 million cars, trucks and 4 million motorcycles registered in Brazil run on various blends of ethanol, gasoline blended Fuel.

The United States and Canada has witnessed an unprecedented increase in the acreage price for prime farmland over the last decade. The price increase is largely due to the” world-wide” increase in demand for distilled fuels; as bushel prices rise with the demand for bio- based fuels.

Ford Truck, G.M. and others have stepped up the manufacturing of flex fuel engines. Most of the Ford F150 pickups rolling on the road today sport a flex-fuel emblem on the tailgate. This works well in the Midwest and corn-belt regions of the U.S. and Canada where ethanol production is subsidized by the Federal government, resulting in lower retail pump prices. You won’t find this to be the case on the East and West coast. Sugarcane distilled ethanol is more plentiful, highly renewable, hence cheaper to produce than corn-based ethanol fuel.

However, we’re not in Brazil, and sugarcane does not grow in Indiana or Kansas. The future of bio fuel in North America will be tied to the development of algae based and grass bio sources.

Corn is not proving to be cost effective in the distillation of Ethanol as demand increases.

World ethanol fuel production reached 23 billion U.S. gallons in 2011. Our research indicates that Honda’s “Earth Dreams” technology could incorporate a small bio-fuel co-generating motor. And it may in the future, But our guess is that Honda will be at the forefront in the development of a grid- interfaced fuel-cell EV high tech self driving people mover. The flexibility of the “Earth Dreams” system is unlimited as to the combination of an alternative fuel “battery charger” as demonstrated in the 2014 Accord Tour.

Excerpts from this article first appeared in Torque News- Honda. Parks R. McCants all rights reserved 2014.

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